The Federal Emergency Management Agency has rejected Texas’ request for a major disaster declaration over the destructive October tornadoes that hit Dallas County. The decision dies the county millions of dollars in federal relief funding.
FEMA administrator, Pete Gaynor, told Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a March 31 letter, obtained by NBC 5's media partner The Dallas Morning News, that the “damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments.”
Which is why FEMA said it denied the request.
"I was quite surprised," Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman said. "We had submitted all of our documentation and information to support our claims for uninsured losses, and we had anticipated that they were going to approve it based on the exceeding the threshold of $38.5 million.”
Kleinman said the city submitted about $10 million in uninsured losses, other cities in the area submitted $10 million, and Dallas ISD, which had several schools badly damaged by the tornadoes, was expected to submit a number that would push the total amount past the threshold.
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"We had anticipated that DISD would was going to submit far in excess of the difference, which would have been $18.5 million, but they had not yet submitted their documentation to substantiate their claims of uninsured losses. So when the deadline hit and FEMA looked at it, it was just very simple numbers, there wasn’t really negotiation, it’s just, here’s the threshold and you have to meet it," Kleinman said.
Over the phone, DISD's chief financial officer, Dwayne Thompson, said because Walnut Hill Elementary and Thomas Jefferson High School were not total losses, it took more time to receive an estimate.
Thompson said the district received those figures, which was about $65 million, and submitted it to the city of Dallas Tuesday morning.
"We're now working directly with DISD to get their claims substantiated and get the documentation in so that we can get during this 30-day appeal period, we can hit the threshold number," Kleinman said.
He said once the specific language was declared, then they could apply for funding to help with infrastructure, like street lights, that were damaged during the tornado.
"I’m very optimistic that these issues are insurmountable, in fact I think they’re very manageable," Kleinman said.
Abbott's office said it would appeal FEMA's decision.
"I'm disappointed because I think FEMA has miscalculated how they're looking at our damages. Basically, what they're doing is they're splitting our damages up and saying we don't reach the threshold to get federal support and I don't think that makes any sense considering we were struck by a tornado," U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas) said.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wrote on Twitter that the city was working with its partners to appeal the decision.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wrote on Twitter that the decision, "is disappointing," and vowed to work with local and state leaders on the appeal.
Kleinman said the city also applied for aid from the the Federal Highway Administration.
“When we initially were applying for about $24 million from FEMA, we pushed $14 million off to federal highways, that’s a little bit different process and I’m checking on the status of that right now. With all that being said, we’re looking to rebuild all of our traffic signal infrastructure that was damaged as well as we have two fire stations that are now out of service," he said.